Richmond Slammed in Lawsuit for Trying to Turn Native Sacred Places, Public Beach, Rare Habitat and Public Lands into a Luxury Housing Enclave at Point Molate
Project Approval Violated CEQA, California Planning and Zoning Law
Richmond, CA – On Friday, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups filed a lawsuit challenging the decision last month by the City of Richmond to approve a proposed 2,000-unit luxury housing project at Point Molate, a biologically, culturally, and historically rich part of the San Francisco Bay shoreline. In addition to the Sierra Club, the petitioners in this case are Point Molate Alliance, SPRAWLDEF, Citizens for East Shore Parks, Golden Gate Audubon Society, California Native Plant Society, Ocean Awareness Project, and individuals representing local interests, including Native rights, which have been excluded from the decision-making process.
“It is clear that the City violated CEQA in approving this luxury development,” said Norman La Force, an attorney representing the petitioners in this case and a member of the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter Executive Committee. “The project’s Environmental Impact Report was completely inadequate, ignoring significant impacts to rare ecosystems and failing to respond to serious concerns raised by many members of the Richmond community and responsible agencies.”
In addition to violating California environmental law, the City also violated California planning and zoning law by approving a project inconsistent with the City’s own General Plan policies intended to protect the environment — namely, that future development in Richmond should be concentrated downtown and near public transit in order to reduce vehicle miles traveled and associated pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
“The Richmond City Council has left us no choice,” said Andrés Soto, long-time Richmond environmental justice advocate. “We had to file this lawsuit because of the utter disregard for the law designed to protect the rights and interests of the people of Richmond from predatory developers and their collaborators on the Richmond City Council.”
Pam Stello, co-chair of Point Molate Alliance, said:“Point Molate should be preserved as a park for all Richmond residents to enjoy — not sold off for a luxury housing development for a wealthy few. The Community Plan proposed by and for Richmond residents is far more equitable, economically prudent, and environmentally sensitive.” The Community Plan would create a magnificent public waterfront park, preserve sacred sites on Ohlone ancestral land, and restore historic Winehaven Village as a commercial, educational and cultural destination, providing jobs for residents and revenue for the city.
Despite the local opposition to large-scale development at Point Molate, Winehaven Legacy, LLC, a subsidiary of southern California developer SunCal, seeks to construct almost 2,000 units of luxury housing, and only 67 “affordable” units, on this remote site with virtually no existing infrastructure. Expert financial analysis shows that the project would result in yearly multimillion dollar deficits for Richmond because the city would have to pay for new infrastructure and services. The area’s high risk of wildfire, combined with a lack of roads and other infrastructure, raises substantial safety concerns not adequately addressed.
Courtney Cummings, Richmond spokesperson for the Confederated Villages of Lisjan/Oholone on Point Molate issues, said: “Desecrating the remains of Original People, laid to rest centuries ago in these sacred places, is heartbreaking. To have their burial sites be turned into a housing project or a parking lot or sewage treatment facility shows the ultimate disrespect to indigenous Americans, the First People of this land. Millions of Native Americans were living here and had been living here for many thousands of years when Columbus arrived. Dishonoring our Sacred Places shows just how little respect is paid to us and to our ancestors, and to their lands that we all live on today.”
Point Molate is home to an unusual diversity of rare plant and animal life, from nesting osprey to black swallowtail butterflies. Its offshore eelgrass beds — a pillar of the Bay Estuary ecosystem — are the healthiest and most expansive in San Francisco Bay. The area also includes prime native plant habitat due to limited human impact during the site’s years as a U.S. Navy fuel depot.
Point Molate also holds historic and cultural value: the site contains the Winehaven winery building, which, from 1906 until the prohibition era, was the largest winery on the west coast, and is now a designated “historic district.” The area also was once the location for Chinese shrimping camps mentioned in Jack London’s famous books about the Bay Area. Moreover, Point Molate holds a number of sites sacred to the Confederate Villages of Lisjan (commonly known as the Ohlone people).
Among the failures of the project’s flawed Environmental Impact Report are a disregard for potentially significant impacts from the loss of eelgrass beds from water taxi and ferry service to the project, as well as from pollution, erosion, and construction run-off; and a failure to acknowledge the significant impact of loss of two rare ecosystems — coastal prairie and northern coastal bluff scrub — as well as foraging and nesting habitat for several raptor species, including the white-tailed kite and peregrine falcon.
Groups representing the local fishing industry have filed a similar suit against the City of Richmond for violating California environmental law.